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Select Committee on Job Security
Impact of insecure or precarious employment on the economy, wages, social cohesion and workplace rights and conditions

Aleki, Private capacity, through Ms Fia Pesa [by audio link], interpreter

LEVITT, Ms Dana, Solicitor, Levitt Robinson

SAUILUMA-DUGGAN, Mrs Lieta, Private capacity

Talipope, Private capacity, through Ms Fia Pesa [by audio link], interpreter

Committee met at 10:01

CHAIR ( Senator Sheldon ): I declare open this 27th and final hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Job Security. I'd like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on today, and pay my respects to all elders past, present and emerging. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. Today's hearing is also streaming live via the web and can be found at

Whilst this committee has tabled its report in relation to the original terms of reference, it has been granted a short extension of time for the limited purpose of inquiring into possible privilege matters, including to:

(a) investigate allegations raised in relation to the treatment of seasonal workers who gave evidence at the committee's public hearing on 2 February 2022;

(b) ascertain the facts in the matter; and

(c) report any findings to the Senate.

These are matters that the committee takes very seriously as part of this inquiry. The committee has received written correspondence from relevant parties. In addition, today's hearing will allow the committee to ask questions of the seasonal worker witnesses and related parties.

I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may of course also be made at any other time.

The committee is due to present its final report no later than 30 March 2022. Where a witness takes questions on notice, answers should be provided by midday on 17 March 2022 to ensure they are received before tabling.

I now welcome Ms Dana Levitt, Mrs Lieta Sauiluma-Duggan and seasonal workers from Samoa. Thank you for your time today. For this session, the workers will be assisted by Samoan interpreter Fia via teleconference. The committee thanks you all for joining us today and for your time and efforts in getting here in person.

You've been provided with information on parliamentary privilege. I understand the secretariat has spoken with you about the protection of witnesses and giving evidence to parliamentary committees. As mentioned in my opening remarks, in giving evidence to the committee today you are protected by parliamentary privilege. However, it is also important to note that parliamentary privilege applies only in Australia. Parliamentary privilege is a special right that means that you cannot be prosecuted or disadvantaged because of anything you have provided in evidence that has been accepted by the committee or because you gave this evidence. However, because this privilege only applies within Australia a person will not be protected by parliamentary privilege outside of Australia. In other words, you are protected by privilege for things you say in Australia, but you're not protected by privilege when you return to your home country.

This hearing is being broadcast live and a transcript is being made. To reduce any potential risk to the workers the committee agreed to use workers' first names only. I now invite each of you to give an opening statement, perhaps starting with the workers. At the conclusion of your remarks, I will invite members of the committee to ask questions. Aleki, would you like to make an opening statement? If you don't that's fine as well.

Aleki : Thank you for the chance. The reason why I'm here is I need help. This relates to the contract that we have. We do not have all the knowledge and understanding that relates to the contract because there was nobody to explain to us what the contract was all about. We were told to sign and then give it back to them and that's why we need help. There are a lot of things that're happening where we are working on the farms. There are a lot of deductions that come out of our wages. We are not clear about these deductions. We are left with a very minimal amount of wages. That's the reason why I'm here. Thank you so much.

CHAIR: Thank you for that, Aleki. Talipope, would you like to say something?

Talipope : Thank you for the chance. Thank you so much to everyone who is presenting today. Thank you to each of the lawyers and everyone else who has come together today. I am here as a witness. Whatever we're going to discuss today I am here as a witness, and I'm going to say what I know. Thank you for the chance.

CHAIR: Mrs Duggan, would you like to say something?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Yes. Thank you for the opportunity. I am the volunteer advocate for Pacific Island seasonal workers in Australia. I'm here to support them and also, hopefully, to get the chance to ask some questions or respond to any questions that will be put to me.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Ms Levitt?

Ms Levitt : I don't have an opening statement.

CHAIR: Thanks very much. As you're aware, this hearing is to look primarily and substantially at the privileges matter, and that means going to the question of whether there has been interference with the workers as a result of giving evidence at this inquiry. Aleki and Talipope, you gave evidence here on Wednesday 2 February, supported by your colleagues.

Talipope : Yes.

CHAIR: Your colleagues were Ieremia, Koneferenisi, Elia and Tuna. Could you tell us what happened after the hearing? Did you lose any shifts?

Talipope : After 2 February and the discussion that we had here we went back to where we were living in Warburton. We were not working. They were planning on moving us to another farm. But we still got paid. One of the changes that occurred was that there was a change in the costing of the work that we were doing. One of the other things that we noticed is that we were threatened. Luckily, no-one was injured, but that's one of the things that we noticed. We felt threatened.

We wanted to pursue the hearing, like what we are having today, to ensure that we have all the rights to go ahead and to ensure that the employer is doing what they are supposed to be doing, legally. After we received the information after the first hearing, everything was okay; however, we were feeling a bit uncomfortable. Thank you for the opportunity.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Just so I'm clear: originally, when you came back to your place of work on 3 February, were there shifts taken off you? You weren't able to return to work until Sunday 6 February. Is that correct?

Aleki : There were about three days of work that we missed.

CHAIR: Prior to leaving for Canberra, who did you inform that you were going to be at this hearing?

Talipope : We told our team leader.

CHAIR: Aleki, is that your recollection of events?

Aleki : Yes, that's what the team leader was saying: 'Just get yourself ready and go ahead. We are all supporting you.'

CHAIR: Was that team leader Pasefika? And it was on 30 January that he was informed—is that correct?

Talipope : Yes.

Ms Levitt : I think there's a bit of confusion as to which hearing—

CHAIR: Sorry, I just want to get that interpreted.

Talipope : Yes. Pasefika Auava, the team leader, was the person we were talking to.

CHAIR: Ms Levitt?

Ms Levitt : I think there's a little confusion as to which time we're talking about. There's the first Senate hearing. I know that, when Lieta went to pick up the boys, MADEC employees confronted her and tried to intimidate her out of taking the boys to Canberra the first time around. The second time round, I think the team leader and some other islanders had been galvanised and were supporting the boys, but suddenly MADEC hasn't been toeing that party line. MADEC has been continuing to intimidate them.

CHAIR: Talipope and Aleki, on the first occasion that you came to the Senate, did you inform the team leader before you left?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : The first time round, but not this time.

Talipope : Yes. We did.

CHAIR: And who did you inform? Can you recall on which day you informed them?

Talipope : The 27th, 28th and 29th. Those were the days we were talking with Pacefika before Lieta came on the 31st.

CHAIR: Thank you, Talipope. Aleki, is that your recollection of events, and is there anything you want to add?

Aleki : Yes, that's correct.

CHAIR: Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan, are you able to tell me what contact you had with either MADEC or Sunny Ridge prior to the first trip to Canberra for the Senate?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : On our way down, we were about 20 minutes away from Warburton. My friend at the back there and I flew down on the morning of the 31st and picked up a van from Melbourne Airport. Then we drove to Warburton. About 20 minutes away, Aleki and Tali rang me and said that Rob, one of the employees of MADEC, was there, questioning them about why they were going to Canberra. So I said to them: 'Can you please talk to him and ask him to leave you there? I'll be there in about 20 minutes.' I then spoke to Rob and told him that we were 20 minutes away, and he agreed to wait around for us. That was the time that I spoke to Rob. When we got there, he wasn't there. So they were fully aware that the boys were leaving.

CHAIR: Thank you. This is a question to Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan. MADEC has told the committee in writing that on Monday 31 January Sunny Ridge asked MADEC to relocate the workers to another farm by Friday 4 February because they were not working properly. MADEC has said this is why the shifts were cut. But, based on what you've told us today, Sunny Ridge likely only wrote the letter after they heard the workers were coming to Canberra to talk about their poor pay and conditions. Is that correct?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : I would say that's correct.

CHAIR: Aleki and Talipope, have you ever received any formal complaints from MADEC or Sunny Ridge about your performance or behaviour?

Talipope : Yes. When I was a supervisor, there were complaints against me from the boss. Most of the time, when I go against the boss, it relates to treating our team. One of the complaints given to me was because I was going against them with what they were telling me, so that led to me being laid off as a supervisor. I'm not worried about that. What I want is justice. Thank you.

CHAIR: Aleki, were there any actions or formal complaints from MADEC or Sunny Ridge about your performance or behaviour?

Aleki : The only time they came to us was to ask about pushing the blocks. Their intention was for us to complete the work, clear the work and get the work done. When we had a rest when it rained, they complained to us.

CHAIR: Thank you. This is my final question before I pass on to Senator Canavan. Have you ever missed any shifts other than when you told MADEC that you were coming to Canberra?

Talipope : There were days I missed because I was sick.

CHAIR: Aleki, have you ever missed any shifts other than when you told MADEC that you were coming to Canberra?

Aleki : The only times that I missed shifts were during COVID. We missed about 10 days because of COVID, but, when we got our wages the following week, they were okayed. We received double. The deductions were doubled as well, but we didn't use the cars when we did not work.

Talipope : I have something to add. When I was laid off as a supervisor, we were told that we were having a rest for three days. When we came back after missing the three days, I was laid off as a supervisor. That is, after the three days where we were not working, when we went back to work, my supervisor role was taken off me. It was after that time, when we returned.

CHAIR: That's when you returned from Canberra? Or was that another occasion?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : No. That was a return from the time they were given three days off as a punishment as a result of Aleki complaining, as a supervisor. They rang them after work and said, 'You're off work for three days.' When they returned, they said, 'Talipope, you're no longer a supervisor.' Three days were given as a punishment for the whole team, and Talipope was punished by having the supervisor role taken off him.

CHAIR: Talipope, is that correct or not?

Talipope : That's correct.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your time. I'll now go to Senator Canavan.

Senator CANAVAN: I have some questions about the pay slip that was tabled at the last hearing. At the last hearing, Senator Grogan asked Talipope:

So we're looking at a 64-hour work week. And, after all of the numerous deductions, you end up with $100. Is that correct?

Talipope, you responded by saying, 'That's correct.'

Talipope : That's correct.

Senator CANAVAN: Did you work a 64-hour week for the period from 11 November until 17 November?

Talipope : Yes, I was working between 11 November and 17 November.

Senator CANAVAN: My specific question is: did you work a 64-hour week?

Talipope : Yes. The pay slip that was presented in the first hearing stated all the hours and time that I worked.

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Sorry, Senator; it was not a pay slip; it was a time sheet.

Senator CANAVAN: Sorry; I'm directing my questions to Talipope here. I wanted to ask that. The pay slip seems to indicate you only worked 19.75 hours that week. Is the pay slip correct?

Talipope : Yes, that's correct, when I was a supervisor.

Senator CANAVAN: I am confused. Did you work 64 hours for the week of 11 November to 17 November?

Ms Levitt : It was definitely more than 19.75.

Senator CANAVAN: The pay slip clearly says 19.75. That's the times by rate. How many hours did you work?

Talipope : I just need some time.

Senator CANAVAN: Okay.

CHAIR: Is it okay if a photographer takes a photo for the newspaper?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Yes. It was definitely more than 19 hours, according to the time sheets.

CHAIR: In answer to Senator Canavan's question, can Talipope tell us what the time sheets said?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : He'll need to add them up.

Senator CANAVAN: Are you simply adding up the hours that were on the time sheet tabled at the hearing?

CHAIR: Senator Canavan, it may be of assistance if Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan gives you an outline of what they're doing, and then it's up to Mr Talipope to answer the question, not anyone else.

Senator CANAVAN: That's right. Just to clarify, though: I have some questions about that time sheet. If that's all you're doing, perhaps I could go on to those questions, because I've got those time sheets, obviously.

CHAIR: I think they're still doing the calculation on the time sheet. Maybe if they give you that baseline, that will be of assistance with your questioning that's coming up.

Senator CANAVAN: I can do that. I can calculate that. I've got that in front of me.

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Sorry, Senator; all he's got here is the time he started and the time he finished.

Senator CANAVAN: Is that the document that was tabled at the last hearing? Is that what you're using?

CHAIR: That's a document that was tabled at the last hearing?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Yes.

Senator CANAVAN: I've got some questions on that. The time sheets that were tabled at the last hearing indicate that you worked on 12, 13, 14 and 17 November. Did you work on those days?

Talipope : Yes, I did.

Senator CANAVAN: MADEC have written to us saying that they have no record of you working on those days. Are you confident you did work on those days?

Talipope : What are the days again?

Senator CANAVAN: They are 12, 13, 14 and 17 November.

Talipope : Yes, I was.

Senator CANAVAN: Did you know where these time sheets came from?

Talipope : This was from the union.

Senator CANAVAN: Did you assist the union in creating these time sheets?

Talipope : The only thing that the union was doing was giving papers to us, and it's for us to complete.

Senator CANAVAN: When did you complete these time sheets?

Talipope : The same week that we received these papers, and then I was working and I completed it.

Senator CANAVAN: To clarify that: you completed it in the same week you worked those hours—is that correct?

Talipope : Yes, that's correct.

Senator CANAVAN: This is a question for anyone. Did anyone here, themselves, provide these time sheets to Senator Grogan or any other senator or any other senator's staff in offices, to be tabled at the last hearing?

Talipope : Yes, the time sheets that we're talking about were given in the last hearing.

Senator CANAVAN: So that's a yes—that you did provide those time sheets to a senator or Senator Grogan or any staff in a senator's office?

Talipope : Yes, that's correct.

Senator CANAVAN: Moving on to some other questions: MADEC has written to us saying that some workers at Sunny Ridge requested to be relocated. Did you, Talipope or Aleki, or anyone here, request to be relocated from Sunny Ridge farms?

Talipope : Yes, that's correct.

Senator CANAVAN: Was that request made before the hearings in February?

Talipope : The request was given after we already had our discussion here in February.

Senator CANAVAN: Okay.

Talipope : Let me correct what I was saying. It was the day that we had the hearing that we did put in the request.

Senator CANAVAN: Was it before or after the hearing?

Talipope : After the hearing, then we put in the request.

Senator CANAVAN: Who did you make that request to?

Talipope : Our request was given to the Senate.

Senator CANAVAN: So no-one alerted MADEC, Sunny Ridge or anyone to pass on that message to them—that you wanted to be relocated?

Talipope : No, we didn't alert any of them, because we were treated very—we had been working so hard. We felt that we had been pushed too hard on the work that we were doing. That's how we felt, so we wanted to be relocated.

Senator CANAVAN: This question is to anyone. Just to be specific: MADEC has submitted to the Senate that a manager at Sunny Ridge farms advised they had been approached by Samoan team leaders who stated that six workers did not want to be at Sunny Ridge anymore. I should say that that request was made on 31 January, before the hearings. Does anyone here know whether that request by Samoan team leaders was made to Sunny Ridge?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : The request was made on 11 February, way after our hearing here. One of the workers from Choice Seedlings contacted me with a complaint about MADEC. I was in the car for this conversation—my husband was driving—on the way up to Sydney on the 11th; we had a family affair in Sydney. This worker said: 'Our farmer is an excellent lady who looks after us like her own children. However, I've got a complaint about MADEC.' In the conversation, I found out that these farmers are great people. About 10 minutes later, Geoff, the husband of Jane, walked in while we were still talking. I spoke to Geoff about the possibility of having six workers from Warburton, and he said he was looking and he was very happy to take six workers from Warburton. At that time, after the hearing, I spoke to David, because he spoke to me about the possibility of relocating the six boys. I asked David for a favour, if he could relocate them to a farm nearby Canberra so I would still be able to help the boys with their language barrier. David said to me he didn't have any farms close to Canberra but he would try his best. There are some around New South Wales. That's why, when I found out about this farm in Camden, I contacted David on the 11th and the 12th. I said to David, 'There is a farmer who is looking for work, and both him and his wife are very happy to bring the workers from Warburton.' That was definitely not before the hearing; this was on the 11th and the 12th.

Senator CANAVAN: Of course, two things can be true at the same time. I specifically want to go the correspondence we have from a Mr Robert Hay. Mr Robert Hay has said in writing that he went to talk to five Samoan workers, including Talipope and Aleki, on Sunday 30 January, to specifically speak about complaints. Do you remember Mr Robert Hay talking to you on Sunday 30 January?

Talipope : Yes, that's correct.

Senator CANAVAN: Mr Robert Hay says—again, in writing—that he asked if you or any of the workers were unhappy or wanted to take legal action against the accommodation provider. He says the workers said that they were not doing anything like that. Is that correct? Is that a correct description of your conversation?

Talipope : Yes, that's correct. We were talking. We didn't understand his question. All we know was to respond, but we didn't understand.

Senator CANAVAN: Okay. Mr Hay also said that he asked whether you were unhappy and he was told that you had asked your team leader, Pasefika Auava Tualagi, to ask Peter, the farm manager, if they could move to a different farm. Did you tell Mr Hay that you had asked your team leader to move you to a different farm?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : He is familiar with the name Rob, not Hay.

Senator CANAVAN: Okay, thank you.

Talipope : No, I am not aware of any of that. There was no discussion.

Senator CANAVAN: Just to clarify: you did not tell Rob that you wanted to be moved to another farm?

Talipope : No, I didn't.

Senator CANAVAN: This is a question for anyone: has anyone here today referred the allegations of punishment as a result of the evidence provided here to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and/or the Department of Education, Skills and Employment?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Yes. I have made contact with Foreign Affairs. Initially, because I never had contact with Foreign Affairs before, I sent some questions to Dave Couzner, managing director of MADEC, asking him to pass the questions over to Foreign Affairs. However, I was told by Kath Kay, the director of the connectivity division in DFAT, that they were to communicate with the high commissioner and the team from Samoa, because I wasn't an official member of the team from Samoa. Therefore, we didn't communicate. But after the meeting on Thursday the 3rd—where I was invited, eventually, to interpret and advocate for the workers; I was there in my role particularly as an interpreter—I sent an email to Kath and George Craig, copying several other members of the team. I explained a lot of things and also submitted two stories of complaint. One was a story of hope; the other one was about Aleki's experience as a supervisor in Warburton. Since then, I've been contacted by Kath, the director, asking me to send those forms, because I forgot to attach them. So now I'm having contact with Foreign Affairs, and I'm feeding them stories about the employers. I have got lots and lots of stories. I'm now starting to feed them through to Kath because she is asking for them.

Senator CANAVAN : Just to be clear, have you provided any evidence the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to date?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Last night, yes. MADEC tried to make these workers that were relocated yesterday sign some contract, a letter of offer and an extension of meals—even the title of the letter was misleading. They were trying to get these boys to sign that without them understanding. These six boys have already signed an authority for me to act as their advocate and as their interpreter, but I was refused yesterday. Eventually, David sent me the letters last night. Dana was there when we had a meeting last night. I specifically told the lady, by the name of Andrea, not to get the boys to sign that form—the contract or whatever form she had—because they don't understand. She still got them to sign. Then David Couzner sent them to me last night. I've responded to David Couzner, copying Foreign Affairs as well. At this stage, I don't have a contact for the Fair Work Ombudsman, but I intend to include them as well.

Senator CANAVAN : Is there any reason why it has taken until last night to pass these allegations on to the appropriate government officials? We've had allegations of this made to the Senate for weeks now. Why has it taken so long?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Like I said, I did not have a contact for Foreign Affairs. When I managed to get one, I wasn't allowed to talk, because I'm not an official member of the team from Samoa. So I sent another email to Kath following that meeting we had on 3 March, and I said to Kath that I was writing to her as an Australian Samoan who lives here and has been approached by many, many Pacific Islander workers—from Tasmania to the Northern Territory—to help them out. Now Kath has asked me to send those stories to her. So I did not have contact with Foreign Affairs.

Senator CANAVAN : Are any of the workers here today involved in legal action against a labour hire firm or a farm employer of any kind?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Dana is the lawyer for every Pacific Island seasonal worker in Australia at the moment.

Ms Levitt : There's no action on foot at the moment.

Senator CANAVAN : Is there any preparation for action?

Ms Levitt : There may be.

Senator CANAVAN : What does that mean?

Ms Levitt : It means I'm compiling evidence to ascertain the strength of a case against labour hire companies, MADEC being one of them.

Senator CANAVAN : Okay. I asked you last time, Ms Levitt, about your role. Your LinkedIn profile says that you're a director of a class action public relations agency.

Ms Levitt : Yes, that's true.

Senator CANAVAN : Can you explain to me what that firm does and what you're involved in?

Ms Levitt : Sure. Class PR is a business that generates awareness for class actions and also enables people to get access to justice where they mightn't be able to otherwise. What I do is I listen, I read the news, I see what's going on out in the world and I pick up on things that people might need help with, the Pacific Labour Scheme obviously being one that jumped out at me, because, as we've all heard, there have been 12 reports that have been tabled on the matter, and nothing has been done. It's certainly an issue that I think has some legs and needs to be aired. That's what I do. I generate awareness and I create a mechanism whereby people can contact and get access to lawyers.

Senator CANAVAN: I'm not a lawyer, but what does 'public relations for class actions' mean? What do you do?

Ms Levitt : A class action needs group members, right? A class action is an action with seven or more people who have a shared grievance against a company or an entity or a person. The idea is that you need group members to know that there is an action on foot so that they can then avail themselves of the help and assistance that I would then provide for them. In this particular instance, Class PR—you would have seen on the Class PR website—has built a page that is translated into every language of the Pacific islands, almost, or the major ones at the moment anyway, and it gives people the opportunity to understand that there is help out there and there is a mechanism through which—not only the Pacific Labour Facility, which I've been referring a lot of people to, but there is extragovernmental help out there as well.

Senator CANAVAN: Were you at all involved in the creation of the time sheets that were tabled in the Senate?

Ms Levitt : Absolutely not. I met the boys the same day that you did.

Senator CANAVAN: Were you aware of the time sheets before they were tabled?

Ms Levitt : No.

Senator CANAVAN: Just returning to the potential for legal action, I have an article here from the ABC News website titled 'Pacific nationals working on Queensland farms claim they are barely making enough money to survive'. It was published on 1 February—just the day before, I think. In the article there is a Mr Levitt, and the article says:

Mr Levitt believes there are grounds for a class action against some of Australia's biggest labour hire firms.

Are you related to Mr Levitt?

Ms Levitt : Yes. He happens to be my father.

Senator CANAVAN: Are you working on this particular class action that is raised here?

Ms Levitt : I am obviously very interested in this issue and airing the issue and ensuring that labour hire companies are held to account for the exploitation of seasonal workers—yes, absolutely.

Senator CANAV AN: Are you doing work on the potential legal action that Mr Levitt talked about?

Ms Levitt : Absolutely. This is all evidence—

Senator CANAVAN: So, when you said to me, 'Maybe,' before, when I asked whether you were involved in any legal action—

M s Levitt : It's not filed. There's nothing formal that's happened.

Senator CANAVAN: That didn't seem to be a particularly fulsome answer. I'll just ask again: what are you involved in—

Ms Levitt : I'm involved in exploring the opportunity and the prospects of bringing a successful action against MADEC and other labour hire companies. No such action has been commenced yet, though.

Senator CANAVAN: I'll finish here. What I'm concerned about here is that there seems to be an attempt to abuse Senate processes for outside legal action. You're a public relations person, and I have no problem with that—you've got a job to do; you've got a crust to earn—but seeking to abuse the Senate, and apparently there has been information tabled that probably was misleading, by Senator Grogan, at the very least—

Ms Levitt : Sorry; which information was misleading?

Senator CANAVAN: Sorry; I will just finish. This seems to be a great abuse of the Senate's time, and I do believe this needs further investigation. We'll obviously hear more evidence later, from Sunny Ridge and MADEC, but I am very, very worried about how there seems to be a conspiracy here to help and assist an outside legal action.

Ms Levitt : If I may respond now, what I would say in response is: Lieta contacted me as an advocate because she saw that there was some interest in bringing an action against labour hire companies. It's just so obvious that there's a major issue here. As a lawyer, I have every right to speak to people in the community. Lieta approached me. I had already met Geoff and Jane Smith, but these boys, the six people that came from Canberra, I'd never, ever met before. I'd never seen a single document. In fact, Senator Tony Sheldon's aide met the boys with me at the very same time that—

Senator CANAVAN: I completely agree there's a big issue—

Ms Levitt : So I had no part in doctoring these sheets.

Senator CANAVAN: That is no excuse for the misinformation that has seemingly been provided to the Australian parliament through the Senate to apparently assist a private legal action outside. I am very concerned about this process, because this potentially undermines the integrity of all Senate inquiries, if they are abused in this way.

Ms Levitt : Again, I'd like to respond by saying that I was approached by the Senate to bring witnesses here. I in no way made that happen—put it that way. I'm assisting the Senate in making these inquiries. I'm in no way impeding the process. In fact, without me bringing all these witnesses here, this wouldn't have been taking place, and this is a very important issue that needs to be aired. I'm assisting the Senate; I'm in no way abusing the Senate committee hearing process.

CHAIR: I will now ask Senator Grogan to ask some questions. Quite rightly, when we have these companies in front of us, we'll be able to investigate these matters further and then, as a committee, we'll be able to start making a decision as to what conclusions we come to. But I'm also very mindful that there have been well over a dozen reports of exploitation of migrant workers over a considerable period of time.

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Absolutely.

CHAIR: Now to Senator Grogan.

Senator GROGAN: I will first say that I think it's outrageous for Senator Canavan to say that I've misled the Senate without getting to the bottom of where the documents came from, which I'm quite happy—

Senator CANAVAN: To be absolutely clear, I did not say that, Senator Grogan. I did not say that. I said the information provided was misleading. I did not say that you did that, so please don't verbal me.

Senator GROGAN: If I can, I will ask you a quick question. You've been working with Aleki and Talipope as an interpreter and as an advocate since the last hearing. Is that correct?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Yes, that's correct. Last time I was here as an interpreter, yes.

Senator GROGAN: Have you heard anyone else mention issues about MADEC and about this action being taken against these workers. There are issues that have been raised. Have you heard anyone else speak of them?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Anyone else from?

Senator GROGAN: Anyone else at all.

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Are you talking about the workers? The workers that are—

Senator GROGAN: No. Anyone talking of it. There was reference to the Samoan high commissioner. I was wondering if you could talk us through what commentary was made there.

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : On 16 February I heard a radio interview where the high commissioner was interviewed by the host. Most of that conversation was about what we did here in parliament, which she wasn't aware of, and she also wished that I had come to her to talk about this.

Senator GROGAN: Was anything else said about the role of the commissioner and the commission in the issues that have been raised about the workers in advocating for them?

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Yes. The high commissioner was speaking about her role at the government level. I haven't actually contacted or communicated with any of the government representatives about my role because the job I'm doing now—as a volunteer, mind you—is as an Australian. I absolutely have complete respect for the high commissioner and the role that they play between the government of Australia and the government of Samoa. Standing here as an Australian, I have every right to ask questions if I don't understand. But when all these seasonal workers are coming to me—even the ones not from Samoa; I've had Vanuatuans, and last night I spoke to some other Vanuatuan people from Queensland—they're asking me for help. So the role of the high commissioner is totally difference from the role I'm playing now as an interpreter and an advocate for the workers.

Senator GROGAN: You heard the interview; I did not. So I'm asking just what the relevant elements of that might be, in terms of the situation we see with the six workers who were allegedly stood down.

Mrs Sauiluma-Duggan : Unfortunately, I didn't hear part of the interview, but the part of the interview I heard that really concerned me was in relation to the workers returning to Warburton from Canberra and that, if it weren't for the liaison officer, their employment would have been terminated and they would have been sent back home. I immediately wrote an email to David Couzner, asking him if he had any intention to do that. He did not respond to me. So around 6 pm that same day I rang David. He answered the call and I asked him over the phone if he had any intention of doing it. He furiously refused to accept that. I asked him, 'Can you please respond to me in writing?' He said, 'No, I'm not responding to you in writing, but I will respond to you through the hearing.' So he still hasn't responded to me in writing.

Senator GROGAN: So you're saying that the high commissioner said that a liaison officer from the high commission had intervened?

Mrs Sauilum a-Duggan : Yes. That's what I heard over the phone. A lot of our community members who actually heard that interview all said the same thing as well. The high commissioner stated that the liaison officer from Samoa, named Aufa'i Sia, apparently contacted MADEC and saved the boys from having their contract terminated. That was said on the radio.

Senator GROGAN: That clears that up. Thank you very much. Aleki and Talipope, when you arrived in Australia, did MADEC arrange a briefing for you with the Fair Work Ombudsman and the union regarding your workplace rights?

Talipope : No, there was no communication between us and those departments.

Senator GROGAN: Was there any briefing whatsoever regarding your rights in the workplace?

Talipope : There was no briefing at all.

Senator GROGAN: Thank you very much.

Senator SMALL: In the interests of time, I will be very brief. Talipope, on the diary record-of-working sheets that was tabled, covering the period 8 November 2021 to 21 November 2021, can you please confirm to me that that is your handwriting?

Talipope : Yes, that's correct. It was me.

Senator SMALL: Which union was involved in compiling these time sheets that were then provided to the committee?

Talipope : United Workers Union.

Senator SMALL: What level of accuracy did you complete the time sheet to? I note that everything is either to the hour or the half-hour. Is it to the nearest half-hour, or to the nearest minute—what level of accuracy?

Talipope : My understanding is, and I am confident: it's to half an hour or to an hour.

Senator SMALL: When were the records made? Were they completed at the end of each day or at the end of each week or at the end of each month?

Talipope : It's every day—after work.

Senator SMALL: Were the records kept by the employer or were they kept in the possession of the employee?

Talipope : I kept it myself.

Senator SMALL: Were they provided to anyone else?

Talipope : Yes, that's right.

Senator SMALL: Sorry—that was a question. So these time sheets were provided to who?

Talipope : Every single member in our team was given a copy of these paper time sheets, by the union.

Ms Levitt : They were blank, though.

Senator SMALL: I'll just add a couple of other questions, and I'll address them broadly.

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator—if you don't mind, I just want to clarify something in the question you asked. Were the time sheets that were given to you by the union blank or were they filled out?

Talipope : Yes, they were blank.

CHAIR: Okay; back to you, Senator Small.

Senator SMALL: The Pacific scheme is a government-to-government program, so obviously the High Commissioner does have a key role, and there are, as I understand it, formal channels to raise concerns between governments on that. So can I ask you, Ms Levitt, why workers' welfare concerns—

CHAIR: Senator Small, are you still with us? We'll just pause for a moment whilst waiting for the senator to come back on the line. Now you're back again, Senator Small, could you ask that question again.

Senator SMALL: Yes. Ms Levitt, it's a government-to-government program, and the High Commissioner has a key role in the formal channels between governments to discuss concerns. So I'm asking why concerns about workers' welfare weren't raised immediately through those channels.

Ms Levitt : That's a question to me. I think the response is that obviously bureaucratic processes are not easy for people to avail themselves of, especially when people are in a foreign country and their capacity to interact with the high commissioner is limited. In circumstances where a high commissioner has gotten involved, we've seen how it ended, because he was named on a Border Force raid and he underwent quite a lot of trouble as a result of trying to advocate for his people. So the question is: are the high commissioners really in a position where they can question the Australian government, or are they in a position where they appreciate that they're dependent on Australia's money and foreign aid—this is supposed to be a foreign aid program—and they don't want to rock the boat lest they end up with nothing?

Senator SMALL: My question is quite specific, Ms Levitt: why didn't you raise those matters yourself, given the consular responsibilities of high commissioners?

Ms Levitt : Raise what? I'm confused as to what you're asking. Raise what issues?

Senator SMALL: You're suggesting that there is systemic exploitation of people participating in these schemes. That is an allegation you've made today, not me. So why has that not been raised by you directly?

Ms Levitt : I'll respond by saying that the liaison officer for Samoa is toeing the party line to an extent that would render my complaining to him futile.

Senator SMALL: So that's to say that you prejudge the outcomes of raising these issues through official channels and instead have been seeking to agitate for a class action from which you presumably stand to benefit financially.

Ms Levitt : I disagree emphatically. What I've been doing is directing workers who contact me to go through the official channels—namely the Pacific Labour Facility. Not a single one knew those existed prior to the last hearing. I don't have a responsibility to take on a diplomatic function. My responsibility is to advocate for people who are being presented with a situation that is untenable and illegal on every front. I am not a diplomat and I don't want to be a diplomat. I know that the diplomatic channels that I have explored in the past—specifically with the high commissioner of Vanuatu—have resulted in absolutely nothing but the high commissioner being on the chopping block, basically, and named in a Border Force raid. So you tell me why I would bother going down that route when it's been such a disaster every other time. Also, I'd like to—

Senator SMALL: Sorry. I'm limited in my time asking questions, so I'll continue asking specific questions.

Ms Levitt : Sure.

Senator SMALL: When did Lieta first ask you for assistance in this matter?

Ms Levitt : I believe she contacted me at the tail end of last year. It was about four months before we actually spoke. Again, I only met her and the boys on the day that I came to Canberra.

Senator SMALL: Ms Levitt, have you been paid, or could you be paid, as a result of any class action involving the Pacific island workers?

Ms Levitt : Eventually, potentially, yes. At the moment, I'm working on a pro bono basis, though, because, as I pointed out earlier, there is no action on foot currently.

Senator SMALL: Are you aware of any communication to the workers providing written information about a class action or at least the potential for a class action?

Ms Levitt : I have not provided any written information directly to anyone about a class action. We're all aware that I have a business that is related to class actions, so, yes, it's online, but I haven't directly approached anyone.

Senator SMALL: So you are unaware of written communications from Lieta to the Samoan workers asking them to join a class action?

Ms Levitt : Unless I was cc'd in them, I wasn't aware of them. I don't recall having seen any, no.

Senator SMALL: Okay. With that, I'll hand back. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Thanks very much, Senator. I just want to thank the witnesses for their evidence today. If you've taken any questions on notice, please provide responses to the secretariat by midday Friday 17 March 2022. I also want to personally extend my appreciation to the workers that have attended today. It is a challenging situation to attend a Senate hearing. The newspapers for many years have been full of substantial cases of exploitation of visa workers. There have been independent reports, government reports and academic reports which reflect many of the allegations that have been made today. I thank you for your time. The committee will take your evidence into consideration as it would for other witnesses. Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 11:27 to 11:37